By Brian Earnest
Mike Denney is a confirmed fan of cars that are authentic and unmolested. Given a choice between a modified car and one that’s unmolested, he’ll lean to the factory-issue version most of the time.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. A few years back when Denney came across a beautiful example of one of his favorite cars — a 1952 Lincoln Capri — he kept an open mind and didn’t balk at it, even though it was not factory-correct. He’s never regretted bringing home the Capri and adding it to his collection. The fact that he is the director/editor of the Road Race Lincoln Register didn’t hold him back, either. He simply knew a great car when he saw it.
“It has a later-model 351 engine and C4 transmission,” says Denney, a resident of Mounds, Okla., near Tulsa. “I bought it from a guy who bought it from a man who modified it. He had a wife in a wheelchair and they loved the car, but he wanted to make it more reliable and put air-conditioning in it and so forth. There is even evidence he had a device in the trunk to help get her wheelchair in and out… What I liked about it is he really kept it as stock as possible on the outside. He really didn’t change anything. The only telltale sign is in back with the dual exhausts. Lincoln only had single exhausts in ’52. That’s about the only thing that’s different.”
“Stumbled on it and called the guy in Nebraska. He was telling me about it and I wanted it so bad we made a deal. We made a deal that if I came up and didn’t want it, there were no hard feelings. So I went and drove it and I was impressed, and obviously I drove it home and I’ve had it 7-8 years. Yes, I was a little worried about it until I saw the car in person. The gentleman who did the work just did a stellar job. He didn’t cut anything up. It’s just a really great car and I’m just so happy with it.”
Denney has been around Lincolns all his life and has been a long-time lover of Ford products, and Lincolns in particular. He’s got a 1940 Ford street rod at home that was once his grandfather’s car. He also modified and restored a ’53 Mercury, which he still has, and has owned a ’57 Ford station wagon for many years. They all share space with his 1983 Lincoln Mark VI, which is a low-mileage original.
“I grew up with these Lincolns. My parents owned a ’52 and then a ’55, plus many Lincolns after that,” he says. “That first car, my parents drove it well over 100,000 miles and then gave it to my grandmother. Then they stumbled into a low-mile 1955 Lincoln Capri, which is the car I took my driver’s test in. They’ve owned Lincolns every since. I’ve always liked the stock ones. At the time I bought this ’52, I had a super-nice ’53 Cosmopolitan that was bone-stock. The bodies are almost identical. Honestly, I wound up driving my red one all the time so much more, I guess because it was the most reliable. This car I just trusted more.”
“I kind of was a snob about them, until this car. But I’ve always built street rods, so I’m not afraid of modifying cars. My grandfather’s ’40 Ford is a street rod now… I’m a ‘car-aholic.’ I love them all. I don’t turn my nose up at any cars these days.”
Fast Times and Hot Rod Lincolns
There were a lot of things to love about the early-1950s Mercury Capris, which became know as the “Road Race Lincolns.” They were handsome, wonderfully built cars with clean lines, understate elegance and a well-deserved reputation for being among the best-performing cars on American roads. The Lincolns cleaned up in the Panamerica race from 1952-’54, earning them their cool nickname. The races lasted five days and covered 1,908 miles, and established the Lincolns as some of the hottest street cars of their time period.
Prior to 1952, the Cosmopolitan was Lincoln’s top tier, but that changed when the Capri was unveiled for the ’52 model year. All three body styles — two-door coupe, two-door convertible and four-door sedan — used a 123-inch-wheelbase chassis. Some major styling changes that gave the ’52 Lincolns a leaner, less-rounded profile. The headlights protruded slightly in front instead of being recessed, and there was “wraparound” glass in both the windshield and back window.
A new ball joint suspension system and refined power steering complemented the Lincoln’s classy looks and helped provide a quite, luxurious ride — nothing new for a Lincoln. But it was in the drivetrain where things really got interesting and set the Capris apart and gave them their wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing persona.
A new 317-cid engine for 1952 was Lincoln’s first foray into the world of overhead-valve engines, and while the company was scrapping its L-head design, it also decided to swap the Holley two-barrel carburetor for a four-barrel version in 1953. The four-barrel, combined with higher compression and larger intake valves, kicked the Capri’s horsepower rating up to 205. That was the setup in the ’53 Capri coupes that entered the 1952 Carerra Panamericana and swept the top four places, with winning driver Chuck Stevenson averaging better than 91 mph for more than 1,900 miles. The Lincoln race teams had similar success the next two years
Denney’s car was one of 5,681 Capri two-door hardtops built for the ’52 model year. It would have carried a base price of $3,518 before any add-ons. Popular options that were available included luxury items such as a power front seat and power windows plus a grille guard, heater, radio and whitewall tires. Spotlights and a “Maximum Duty Kit” for owners who wanted to do a little racing were also available.
“The biggest thing that happens is people call them Mercurys, because it does have so many styling cues like a Mercury,” Denney notes. “If you don’t tell them what it is, people say, ‘Nice-looking Mercury!’ The truth is, I have a ’53 Mercury, and there is no interchangeability at all. While they may look the same, there is nothing interchangeable between the two. Mercurys do share a lot with Ford, but Lincoln I think tried to make this one unique.”
Denney isn’t sure where his red ’52 lived all of its previous life, or how it stayed in such good shape, but he’s plenty grateful to all the previous owners. “I don’t know much about its history, but it’s not a rusty car and I’m pretty sure it came out of Nebraska originally, but I can’t swear to it. There is not a drop of rust anywhere that I can find.”
At some point in its past, the ’52 Capri got a nice new paint job, new interior, and re-plated chrome all the way around. The 351-cid Ford V-8 apparently came out of a 1977 pickup. “There was a two-barrel on it originally, but I had a little difficulty with a vacuum leak, so I put a brand-new Edelbrock four-barrel on it with a new manifold, and that really made the car come to life,” Denney says. “And it’s such a nice-riding car. It was not a big, sloppy-handling car. It was the first car with ball joints … There were a lot of firsts with Lincolns of that era.”
With his standing in the Road Race Lincoln Registry, Denney knows he has a bit of a standard to uphold when it comes to his favorite Lincolns. Even though it’s not completely authentic, he never needs to make any apologies for his lovely ’52. He figures he’s got the best of both worlds.
“I enjoy both sides of road. I enjoy a stock car as much as the next guy, especially when these Lincolns are kept stock,” he concludes. “With this car, I get so much pleasure from it and I’m so proud of it. Either way, at the shows I got to, I’m often the only guy with a Lincoln!”
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